Bob Sears’ personal attacks on Paul Offit – anti-vaccine evidence

On March 13, 2015 Dr. Bob Sears, a California antivaccine physician, wrote a post on Facebook attacking Dr. Paul Offit, pediatrician, vaccine inventor, scientist, vaccine advocate and educator.

Dr. Sears wrote:


Everyone’s favorite infectious disease doctor tried to write a compelling argument as to why parents should not have religious freedom to decline vaccines, and the New York Times shot it down. Here’s a link to the Time’s review. So, sorry to help publicize this waste of trees, but the more people who know that this vaccine advocate doesn’t care about religious freedom in the United States the better. Enjoy!
Dr. Bob.

The predictable result was a series of comments calling Dr. Paul Offit a variety of names and wishing a variety of harms on him. As of seven hours from the post going up, comments calling Dr. Offit “a self serving creep who gets a bully pulpit to promote his personal financial interest,” “jerk”, “downright evil”, “a disgusting psychopath”, and other outlandish comments were not moderated by Dr. Sears or anyone else.

Another comment asked people to post reviews about Dr. Offit’s book on Amazon. Two reviews were placed there showing clearly the commentators have not read the book, both including personal attacks. Those two comments were also left in place.

Nine hours after the post went up, Dr. Bob commented on it on another issue:


He did not, however, remove the attacking comments.

Attacks on Dr. Offit are a regular staple on other anti-vaccine sites. NVIC periodically puts up a picture of Dr. Offit – whether or not it has anything to do with the article accompanying it – and allows its followers to engage in substantial abuse with little moderation (in at least one case, death threats were left up until a request to remove them was sent to the central organization. Age of Autism regularly publishes articles attacking Dr. Offit and allows its members to launch vicious personal attacks against him.

If Dr. Bob really wants to claim he’s not anti-vaccine – as he did in previous posts – following in these footsteps is a bad idea. It is also unprofessional. Dr. Sears does not like the fact that Dr. Offit criticized his book (Dr. Offit and Ms. Moser’s criticism can be found here; Dr. Sears’ blog post written in response can be found here).

Indeed, Dr. Sears has accused Dr. Offit’s article of being writing lies about him in the past:

But allowing his anger to lead him into childish name calling, and allowing his followers to post the kind of comments typical to extreme anti-vaccine sites does not fit his claims of not being anti-vaccine. It’s also extremely unprofessional. There are ways professionals criticize. This isn’t one of them.

Dr. Sears’ behavior in the past was problematic. In the middle of an outbreak, he misrepresented the risks of measles, downplaying them in ways that were simply misleading. His book, too, by playing into parents’ fears and providing inaccurate information, could mislead parents into not vaccinating, or at least skipping or delaying vaccines.

And in recent times, Dr. Bob Sears’ calls for action against the pending legislation in California (SB277) focused on directing people to anti-vaccine organizations like NVIC.

Update – a personal attack using an epithet coined and used by anti-vaccine activists against another pediatrician, unleashing and allowing a series of invective-filled, hostile comments left unmoderated – Bob Sears behavior fits comfortably with that of the anti-vaccine movement. The fact that he felt comfortable to engage in it also suggests he sees his frame of reference, and his support base, as belonging squarely in the anti-vaccine camp – and not its moderate edges.

Editor’s note – this article was first published in October 2015. It has been updated to fix broken links and update current information.

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss
This article is by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy and the law. 

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.